Africa

Boko Haram ratchets up the stakes in Nigeria

Monica Mark

Nigeria's military claims to have captured one of the group’s ringleaders – but the attacks continue unabated.

The scene of a June 26 bombing at the Emab business centre in Abuja. At least 21 people were killed in the blast. (Reuters)

Nigeria’s military said it had broken up a Boko Haram cell that masterminded the kidnap of more than 200 girls in April, hours before a bomb blast struck a busy market in Maiduguri, the capital of the Islamist insurgents’ home state of Borno.

In the first public arrest since the abductions that had sparked international outrage, police this week said they had detained Babuji Ya’ari, the cell’s ringleader, who had “participated actively” in the kidnappings of the Chibok schoolgirls.

“Babuji Ya’ari has been co-ordinating several deadly attacks in Maiduguri since 2011, including the daring attacks on customs and military locations, as well as the planting of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in several locations in the town,” said a defence ministry spokesperson.

He said Ya’ari, a businessman who sells tricycles, had lived a double life as a member of a civilian vigilante group, whose numbers have grown as Boko Haram’s bloody campaign to impose a Muslim caliphate enters its fifth year.

A soldier told the Guardian the vast majority of Civilian JTF members – named after the elite army joint taskforce spearheading the fight against the militants – were neither vetted nor trained in counterinsurgency tactics.

“They are very good at giving us information because many of the Boko Haram members are people they know, people who have grown up with them,” the Maiduguri-based soldier said. “But the fact of the matter is that they are not professionals – anyone can go and join them, and we have no way of knowing what that person really believes.”

No transparency
Nigeria’s military often claims arrests, some of which national and foreign security sources say have yielded valuable information. But more often, no further public information is provided once arrests have been made, and suspects rarely stand trial.

“There is no transparency at all on what happens to detainees, and that is something the military has never even attempted to rectify,” said Abdullahi Wase, a criminology professor at Jos University, who has tracked military arrests for years.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has been under fire for its handling of the abduction, in which the insurgents launched a three-hour attack on Chibok with barely any resistance.

A confidential government report last month concluded 219 girls are still missing.

The attack prompted special forces from the United States and the United Kingdom to increase counterterrorism assistance, although the US began scaling back surveillance flights to accommodate increased surveillance over Iraq late last month, US defence officials said.

Female arrests
Two women were also arrested in the military swoop. One, named as Hafsat Bako, is accused of co-ordinating the fighters’ pay. “In her confession, she disclosed that a minimum of 10 000 naira is paid to each operative, depending on the enormity of his task,” the army said.

A suicide bomber struck Maiduguri’s Monday market in the early morning rush hour. “The attack was in the area where villagers come from [the interior] to sell charcoal. There were so many dead people,” said a resident, Abubakar Garba.

Boko Haram stepped up attacks in the week leading up to Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and less than a year ahead of elections.

A bomb in a medical school in the northern capital of Kano has left eight dead, and an attack on a barracks killed several dozen. On Sunday, fighters killed at least 30 in four churches just a few kilometres from Chibok.

In the capital, Abuja, a huge bomb at a mall killed at least 24 people.

“I’ve never seen the city quite like this before. People are just staying at home as much as possible – it’s scary,” said Ernest Nwokolo, a hairdresser who said business had almost ground to a halt since the bombing.

At least 2 000 have been killed this year, compared with an estimated 3 600 in the four years since the insurgency began. – Guardian News & Media 2014

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